Speech and language disorders

Speech and language disorders can make it difficult for children to speak, read and write.

As many as one in five preschool children experience speech and language disorders, such as stuttering or childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). Some children grow out of their conditions, but others go on to have long-term difficulties with communication.

Childhood apraxia of speech affects the brain’s ability to direct and coordinate the movements for speech. This makes speech very hard to produce which is then hard for others to understand.

Stuttering can make it hard for children to speak fluently. Children may repeat words, lengthen sounds or experience blocks in speech where they cannot produce a particular sound, word or words.

Genetic factors are thought to play a key role in speech and language disorders. Recently, an increasing number of genes are being identified as causative for childhood apraxia of speech.

Understanding the causes of these disorders will improve advancements in treatment.

Who does it affect?

Who does it affect?

  • In Australia, more than half a million children have a speech and language disorder.
  • One in five children in Australia start school with a speech and language disorder.
  • Children with speech and language disorders are three times more likely to have low academic performance, despite them typically having average IQs.
  • One in 1,000 children has childhood apraxia of speech, the most severe child speech impediment. Apraxia is debilitating as children fail to learn to speak clearly and combine sounds properly and it also affects the timing and sequencing of words.

For more information:

Our speech and language research

Our speech and language research

Many treatments for speech and language disorders focus on symptoms without targeting the cause. Learning more about genetic and other underlying causes will help identify who may be at risk and allow more targeted therapies.

We lead The Centre of Research Excellence in Speech and Language, an international collaboration of experts, that aims to identify and understand causes of developmental speech and language disorders and develop therapies. In future blood or saliva tests may detect genes responsible for some disorders, ensuring earlier diagnosis and targeted intervention.

Our genetics of stuttering study is the world’s largest survey of the impact of stuttering, recruiting 3,000 adults and children who stutter from Australia and New Zealand. It also aims to pinpoint genes that predispose to stuttering. Initial findings of the first 1,000 participants show half report a family history of stuttering.

Our genetics of speech disorders study is researching genetic causes of speech disorders. We’re recruiting children and adults with severe speech disorders including apraxia. Pinpointing which genes are responsible may lead to more targeted treatments.

Another study is investigating if the drug methylphenidate, normally used in ADHD, can improve speech and language in children with apraxia. It’s the first trial of its type to evaluate this drug as a potential apraxia treatment.

Our vision

Our vision

Our vision is to develop better interventions so children with speech and language difficulties reach their full potential. Speech and language difficulties put children at much greater risk of literacy and academic difficulties. Children with these conditions also experience communication breakdown where people struggle to understand what affected children say. Communication breakdown can have major negative long-term effects on children’s psychological and social outcomes. Our work aims to improve children’s self-esteem, ability to form social relationships, academic achievements and quality of life.